A timely addition to the curriculum from the University of Washington:
The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. Advertisers wink conspiratorially and invite us to join them in seeing through all the bullshit — and take advantage of our lowered guard to bombard us with bullshit of the second order. The majority of administrative activity, whether in private business or the public sphere, seems to be little more than a sophisticated exercise in the combinatorial reassembly of bullshit.
We’re sick of it. It’s time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people. So, the aim of this course is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument.
A new report details how companies duck paying their taxes – and free-ride on those of us who do:
Fortune 500 companies are holding nearly $2.5 trillion in accumulated profits offshore for tax purposes.
Read the report here.
When corporations avoid taxes, investment banks take their cut:
Investment banks are estimated to have collected, or will soon collect, nearly $1 billion in fees over the last three years advising and persuading American companies to move the address of their headquarters abroad (without actually moving). With seven- and eight-figure fees up for grabs, Wall Street bankers — and lawyers, consultants and accountants — have been promoting such deals, known as inversions, to some of the biggest companies in the country, including the American drug giant Pfizer.
Just last week, President Obama criticized these types of transactions, calling the companies engaged in them “corporate deserters.” “My attitude,” he said, “is I don’t care if it’s legal. It’s wrong.”
Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone:
The bottom line is that the “unfunded liability” crisis is, if not exactly fictional, certainly exaggerated to an outrageous degree. Yes, we live in a new economy and, yes, it may be time to have a discussion about whether certain kinds of public employees should be receiving sizable benefit checks until death. But the idea that these benefit packages are causing the fiscal crises in our states is almost entirely a fabrication crafted by the very people who actually caused the problem. It’s like Voltaire’s maxim about noses having evolved to fit spectacles, so therefore we wear spectacles. In this case, we have an unfunded-pension-liability problem because we’ve been ripping retirees off for decades – but the solution being offered is to rip them off even more.
Everybody following this story should remember what went on in the immediate aftermath of the crash of 2008, when the federal government was so worried about the sanctity of private contracts that it doled out $182 billion in public money to AIG. That bailout guaranteed that firms like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank could be paid off on their bets against a subprime market they themselves helped overheat, and that AIG executives could be paid the huge bonuses they naturally deserved for having run one of the world’s largest corporations into the ground. When asked why the state was paying those bonuses, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers said, “We are a country of law. . . . The government cannot just abrogate contracts.”
Now, though, states all over the country are claiming they not only need to abrogate legally binding contracts with state workers but also should seize retirement money from widows to finance years of illegal loans, giant fees to billionaires like Dan Loeb and billions in tax breaks to the Curt Schillings of the world. It ain’t right. If someone has to tighten a belt or two, let’s start there. If we’ve still got a problem after squaring those assholes away, that’s something that can be discussed. But asking cops, firefighters and teachers to take the first hit for a crisis caused by reckless pols and thieves on Wall Street is low, even by American standards.
Read the piece here.
See Taibbi interviewed by Democracy Now! on the Great Pension Fund Rip-off here.
Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism has released an ebook based on testimony from whistleblowers at Bank of America and PNC on the whitewash more formally known as the Independent Foreclosure Reviews. You can download the pdf here.
Read more about the book here.
The fiscal cliff deal was a “crony capitalist blowout,” in the words of the Wall Street Journal. Bill Moyers explains why:
A trillion here, a trillion there… pretty soon you’re talking real money. The London Observer reports new estimates of the world’s offshore wealth:
A global super-rich elite has exploited gaps in cross-border tax rules to hide an extraordinary £13 trillion ($21tn) of wealth offshore – as much as the American and Japanese GDPs put together – according to research commissioned by the campaign group Tax Justice Network.
Read more here.
Speaking of bringing bad things to life, Eduardo Porter writes in the business section of The New York Times:
Company executives are paid to maximize profits, not to behave ethically. Evidence suggests that they behave as corruptly as they can, within whatever constraints are imposed by law and reputation….
And the furious rush of corporate cash into the political process — which differs from bribery in that companies pay politicians to change laws rather than bureaucrats to ignore them — is unlikely to foment ethical behavior.
Read the story here.
Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone dissect the corrupt nexus between our financial system and our political system: